Australian coach has returned to a club where he first set down roots
Celebrating 30 years of Women’s National League Hockey, with Investec
In an ideal world, Craig Keegan would love nothing better than to have the GB central programme moved to Derby where he could work from home and be involved at performance level once more.
The Australian misses the daily grind of player contact time and the professional coaching and training staff, but his heart, work and home is now in the Midlands.
After leaving the GB set up nearly two years ago, Keegan, who joined Belper nearly two decades as a player-coach for the men’s side, is now ladies 1s coach, alongside his day job as a sports director at the University of Derby.
“I almost wasn’t ready to be back but it has been part of my life during my time in the UK,” he says. “They approached and it was an opportunity to be a part of it.”
The club won the Midlands Prem in 2018, the goal then to get into the top seven to get promoted to the Division 1 North. They’ve had a difficult start to the season, not helped by the major flooding, on top of extensive travel times in the expansive league structure. As you’d expect from someone who has been involved in elite performance, Keegan has plenty of views on the club game.
“The challenges from a high performance environment transitioning to a club is the contact time, down to once per week at Belper for two hours,” he tells The Hockey Paper.
“National league hockey is not the No.1 priority for players. They have jobs, university, schools, loved ones, sometimes hockey is third or fourth on the priority and rightfully so.”
Keegan says the gap between the Conference and the Premier Division was “significant”.
Now there are two Division 1s, Keegan believes the the Conference can act as a feeder league. A good thing, he says, has been established. But there is a caveat. “Now there are effectively four new national leagues across men and women, the challenge is facilities, match managers, umpires and I don’t believe any of that is in place to sustain another four leagues at national league level,” he admits.
“We’re all giving up more time that we have to develop the sport that we love. It does appear that the standard is not at a Div 1 level. It will take a number of years for it to even out.”
Keegan is enthused about the talent pool at Belper, the club continually “punching above its weight” for an almost village-feel club. Belper proudly boasts of having the likes of Hollie Pearne-Webb and Anna Toman as former players.
Today, Keegan has eight under-18 players in his squad and says that the under-14 group “looks very exciting”. Naturally, they all know about the Rio gold.
“Still to have a real family feel it’s a fantastic achievement,” adds Keegan. “It was one of the draws for me to be involved in the club.”